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THE ESCHATOLOGICAL EMBARRASSMENT

Read­ing Time: 12 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Isa 66:18–21; Heb 12:5–7.11–13; Luke 13:22–30)

An indi­vidu­al has not star­ted liv­ing until he can rise above the nar­row con­fines of his indi­vidu­al­ist­ic con­cerns to the broad­er con­cerns of all human­ity” (Mar­tin Luth­er King, Jr.).

The road to Heav­en is extremely small and most people will not find it even many people who call them­selves Chris­ti­ans. Many people say they love Christ, but their actions show that they truly hate him. Just because you go to church does not mean you will go to heaven.

Opening words

After last Sunday mes­sage which ter­min­ated in Luke 12:53, the twelfth chapter of the Gos­pel accord­ing to Luke con­cludes with a neg­at­ive criticism/condemnation (cf. Luke 12:54–57) and an advice (cf. Luke 12:58–59). Jesus describes the crowd as hypo­crites because of their expert­ise in weath­er fore­cast and their inex­per­i­ence and non­chal­ance in soteri­olo­gic­al fore­cast as well. The inab­il­ity of the crowd to grasp the salvif­ic time in their midst indic­ates lack of enthu­si­asm and zeal in spir­itu­al mat­ters. Such prob­lem con­tin­ues even today. Most people are good at enti­cing the­or­et­ic­al, theo­lo­gic­al and philo­soph­ic­al for­mu­la­tions, but lack prac­tic­al approach to life and exper­i­ence of the com­mon popu­lace. This Sunday Gos­pel taken from the thir­teenth chapter of Luke is an expa­ti­ation and con­sequence of not liv­ing accord­ing to Jesus’ teach­ings espe­cially as out­lined in Luke 12.

Luke 13:22–30 is the third of three stor­ies in Luke 13 that deal with the theme of the sur­pris­ing reversals of fate in the King­dom of God. The oth­er two stor­ies are about the tiny mus­tard seed that grows into a large tree (cf. Luke 13:18–19), and the little quant­ity of yeast that makes a large batch of dough rise (cf. Luke 13:20–21). All three stor­ies are about the eschat­o­lo­gic­al sur­prises of the King­dom of God.

The foundation of Luke 13:22–30

In the pre­vi­ous twenty-one verses that pre­cede Luke 13:22–30, Jesus warns against the following:

  1. Per­sist­ence in unright­eous­ness and injustice, which def­in­itely lead to death (cf. Luke 13:1–5);
  2. Spir­itu­al infer­til­ity and empti­ness (cf. Luke 13:6–9);
  3. Reli­gious form­al­ity, rigid and mere observ­ance of the let­ters of the law and injustice (cf. Luke 13:7–17);
  4. Finally, he teaches what the king­dom of God is like (cf. Luke 13:18–21).

Our pas­sage stands on this found­a­tion. In Luke 13:22–23, as Jesus con­tin­ued his teach­ings and as he passed through the cit­ies and vil­lages, a cer­tain indi­vidu­al con­fron­ted him with the ques­tion con­cern­ing the num­ber of people that will be saved. The per­son who asked this ques­tion must have noticed the immense gap between the teach­ings of Jesus and the tra­di­tion­al teach­ings impar­ted by the Jew­ish authorities.

The soteriological interrogation

Jesus went through one town and vil­lage after anoth­er, teach­ing as he made his way to Jer­u­s­alem. Someone asked him, Lord, will only a few be saved?” (Luke 13:22–23). Jesus is still jour­ney­ing to Jer­u­s­alem. And he keeps teach­ing as he goes. The ques­tion from the crowd gives Jesus the chance to make a proph­et­ic state­ment. This ques­tion-tac­tic is fre­quent in the Gos­pel accord­ing to Luke. In the 15th Sunday, the ques­tion of the nomikos “what must I do to inher­it etern­al life?” led to the par­able of the godly Samaritan.

As indic­ated above, the ‘someone’ (who could be any per­son) who wanted to know the num­ber of people that will be saved must have reflec­ted much on the teach­ings of Jesus. After listen­ing to Jesus’ words in Luke 12 and Luke 13:1–22, such inter­rog­a­tion became unavoid­able. As a Jew, he must have observed clear diver­gence between what he has been taught and what Jesus is say­ing. What is the solu­tion to this con­flict? Inter­rog­at­ing Jesus became the only way out. The for­mu­la­tion of the ques­tion is very inter­est­ing. The per­son who asked this ques­tion did not say “how many people will be saved?” Rather, “will only a few be saved?” This is an inter­rog­at­ory con­clu­sion. This ques­tion implies the man already knows only few people will be saved. Why? He must have con­tem­plated wheth­er people have been prac­ti­cing godly reli­gion and wor­ship. I think the man must have presen­ted as ques­tion what he has been nur­tur­ing in his mind. He must have reasoned with­in him­self: if what this man (Jesus) is say­ing is true, then, only few people will be saved. To clear his doubt, he decided to present the mat­ter to Jesus in form of an inter­rog­a­tion. In the Gos­pels, these soteri­olo­gic­al ques­tions are fre­quent.[1]

The ques­tion wheth­er only few will be saved needs great­er atten­tion. Is there any resemb­lance between the reli­gion we prac­tice and the reli­gion we ought to prac­tice? Is our approach and inter­pret­a­tion of the Gos­pel mes­sages per­son­al, interest-ori­ented, or are they object­ive, self­less, and in agree­ment with the mind of Jesus and the authors? It is not enough to read the word of God and to know the com­mand­ments. The man who asked Jesus the ques­tion also read the Scrip­ture and knew the com­mand­ments as well. Fur­ther­more, the Jew­ish reli­gious lead­ers who read the Scrip­tures and who knew the com­mand­ments and even inter­preted them must have taught him. But as one of the crowd who have been fol­low­ing Jesus, he observed a great abyss between what he knew, what he has been taught and what he is hear­ing from Jesus. It is nat­ur­al that he sus­tains some doubt (theo­lo­gic­al doubt), which must be cla­ri­fied. It is also curi­ous why he decided to present this doubt to Jesus instead of present­ing it to the reli­gious lead­ers of his reli­gion. Jesus is gradu­ally mak­ing people to ree­valu­ate the tra­di­tion­al way of intend­ing and prac­ti­cing reli­gion and the Scrip­ture. It is import­ant we find out the kind of reli­gion we prac­tice (cf. Jas 1:27). It is not everything said or done with and in the name of God or of Jesus that reflects true wor­ship and faith. Until he received a dif­fer­ent teach­ing (cf. Acts 9), Paul was con­vinced that killing non-Jews was doing the will of God (cf. Acts 22:4; 26:11; Gal 1:13–14). This is what his reli­gion taught him. Like the ‘someone’ of the crowd, Paul must have wondered if what he has known and done before his con­ver­sion could lead him to etern­al life. In fact, his zeal and com­mit­ment in pro­claim­ing the Gos­pel con­firms this.

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